When it comes to the best places to visit for Christmas as a family, there are plenty of holiday travel options. You can head to Rome and Vatican City to soak in the religion of it all. Vienna, beautifully drenched in festive lights, boasts first-rate Christmas markets and concerts. Head north to Lapland, Finland, to visit Santa’s official hometown. Or, if you want to lie beneath Christmas-lit palm trees, a Caribbean vacation might do the trick.
Yet, some of the best Christmas towns and bedecked Christmas villages are actually right here in the US, offering those traveling with small kids a way to save on money and time. These local destinations go all out for Christmas with unique holiday light shows, special performances, and plenty of opportunities to meet with Santa Claus.
Read on for some of our favorite Christmas vacation ideas for those looking to get into the holiday spirit in a big way, from New York City to Williamsburg, Virginia, to Newport Beach, California. Find even more ideas in our Family Travel Guide.
The Rockefeller tree is one of NYC's most famous holiday sights, but there are many more! Photo by Julienne Schaer for NYCGo
1. New York, New York
New York City is certainly one of the best places to visit for Christmas. It's lit up in all manner of lights for the season. In Midtown, the city’s iconic tree towers over the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, while the decorated St. Patrick’s Cathedral is just across the street, along with the fantastic holiday store windows all decked out in fantastical designs. In Bryant Park, another tree and ice rink are flanked by a charming shopping village. You'll find Santaland, a mini North Pole complete with Santa, at Macy's Herald Square, the Rockettes dancing at Radio City for the Christmas Spectacular, and the iconic Nutcracker ballet playing all over town, including the very special Lincoln Center performance. To experience a full explosion of Christmas spirit, take the R or D train out to Brooklyn's Dyker Heights neighborhood, which has become an international destination as residents try to outdo each other with over-the-top light displays on their homes.
Check out our list of the 21 Once in a Lifetime Holiday events available in NYC.
Cinderella and all your favorite Disney characters get into the holiday spirit at Walt Disney World. Photo courtesy of Visit Orlando
2. Walt Disney World — Orlando, Florida
Disney’s version of Christmas is as grand as you would expect. You’ll find Cinderella’s castle decked out in a snow-like blanket of white lights, an international smorgasbord of holiday traditions at Epcot, and the special effects of falling snow at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Fireworks, live entertainment, parades, and rides make this Florida getaway one of the best Christmas vacations in the U.S. Explore more of Orlando for Nutcracker shows, more holidays lights, and seasonal festivals.
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The historic city of Philadelphia offers lights, ice skating, Santa sightings, and an authentic Christmas market. Photo courtesy of Visit Philly
3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philly is abuzz with family festivities in December, making it one of the best places to go for Christmas. Check out Dilworth Park’s ice rink (pictured), carousel, light show, and the city’s official tree. Stop by the Comcast building for a holiday sing-along. Macy’s indoor Christmas Light Show is accompanied by organ music and narrated by Julie Andrews, and you can take the kids to see the retailer's mini Dickens Village afterward. Franklin Square has an outdoor light show, in addition to Santa, a carousel, a train ride, and mini golf. For an authentic German Christmas market, visit Christmas Village in LOVE Park. The Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest features fire pits, a game room, holiday movies, and ice skating with Santa along the Delaware River. A free shuttle that stops at 11 holiday attractions makes it easy to get around.
This New England town is picture perfect over the holiday season, including during Wassail Weekend. Photo courtesy of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce
4. Woodstock, Vermont
If your idea of Christmas includes snow, a fireplace, and a quaint country village, Woodstock is your spot. You can garner plenty of gift ideas from strolling along the scenic shop-lined streets all lit up in holiday lights. Kids will love the general store, bookstore, and toy shop in this Christmas town. The annual Wassail Weekend (December 7-9) notches up the holiday spirit with carolers, the lighting of a Yule log, a parade, and breakfast with Santa. A visit with the animals at Billings Farm & Museum, a 19th-century dairy farm, will also keep kids entertained.
The holiday light show moves to the water with the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. Photo by fortherock via Flickr
5. Newport Beach, California
Looking for something a little less traditional? Celebrate the season in Southern California with lights on the water and a festive mini cruise. Newport Harbor lights up with sailing vessels of all types—from kayaks to yachts—during the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, December 19-23. Residents also deck out the shoreline with top-notch lights, casting a holiday glow across the water. Start early with an afternoon visit to the Fun Zone. Kids will also like the new 10.5-acre Marina Park where they can get their energy out on a nautical themed playground. There are fireworks on opening and closing nights. Cap the night off at Sugar ’n Spice with a Balboa Bar or frozen banana. The Newport boat parade is the oldest in the country, but there are also several other holiday boat parades in the Los Angeles area.
Koziar's Village in Pennsylvania is a magical display of classic Christmas lights for a seasonal day trip. Photo courtesy the village
6. Koziar’s Christmas Village — Bernville, Pennsylvania
What simply started as a man decorating his house for the holidays has spiraled into one of the most magical Christmas villages over the past 71 years. Known for its impressive lights and decorations, the country estate also features a toy shop, old-time bakery, Santa visits, and more. After paying a modest admissions fee, families can walk or stroller the paths around this old farmhouse to take in all the good-natured Christmas kitsch. Warm up with a chocolate chip cookie and a cup of cider. It's a pretty perfect holiday day trip for those living in the area, or for anyone visiting one of Pennsylvania's top spots. Just be warned that the traffic (and crowds) can pile up at certain times, so we'd suggest going early, on a weeknight, or even after Christmas to avoid the worst crowds.
Enjoy a snowy Texas holiday at the Santa's Wonderland attraction filled with kid activities. Photo courtesy of Santa's Wonderland
7. Santa’s Wonderland — College Station, Texas
If you’re looking for snow in Texas, you’ll find it here. There’s a nightly snowfall, a snow playground, and snow tubing. Take a horse and carriage or hayride to view an impressive light display. Afterward, visit Santa, sit by a fire pit, and enjoy live music. Other attractions include a trackless train ride, pony rides, and a petting zoo, outdoor holiday movies, a mechanical bull, and a life-sized snow globe. Plenty of shopping and food are also available, and it makes for a lovely day trip from the Houston area.
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Fireworks, historic meet-and-greets, and holiday characters like Santa come together in the 18th century Colonial Williamsburg attraction. Photo courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg
8. Williamsburg, Virginia
Take in the charm of an old-fashioned Christmas with a family getaway to Colonial Williamsburg. Stop by its Raleigh Tavern to experience an 18th-century Christmas party. On December 2, catch the Grand Illumination, a fireworks show that includes firing guns and musical performances. Visit the nearby Busch Gardens Christmas Town to lengthen your stay. Enjoy a spectacular light display at the amusement park, live holiday entertainment, a holiday market, pictures with Santa, and meet-and-greets with Rudolph and other holiday characters.
The New England town of Mystic charms with classic holiday activities, such as a carriage ride and holiday performances. Photo courtesy of the Mystic Seaport
9. Mystic, Connecticut
This pretty, coastal New England town is one of our favorite family weekend getaways year-round with its impressive aquarium, museum, and quaint walking village. During the holidays it transforms into an extra special Christmas village. The Mystic Seaport Museum offers the charming Lantern Light Tours, 90-minute theatrical performances centered around Christmas Eve 1876 that's recommended for kids ages 4 and up. The roving play winds through town and includes a horse-drawn carriage ride. Book a fancy afternoon tea and sweets tray at Alice in the Village to get into the festive spirit, or simply stroll the 1700-themed Olde Mistick Village, which offers plenty of shopping and food options in a historical village atmosphere. The annual Holiday Carnival (December 1) includes Santa’s Workshop, a store designed just for kids with all items under $10 and an elf to help them shop. At Mystic Aquarium, Winterfest will return for December weekends and holiday break with Santa, Rudolph, ice sculptures, live music, and more.
Santa rides into Branson's Silver Dollar City for a magical Christmas. Photo courtesy of Branson's Convention and Visitor Center
10. Silver Dollar City — Branson, Missouri
Missouri might not seem like a vacation destination in December, but the whole family can get excited about heading to Silver Dollar City. In addition to repeatedly being named one of the top amusement parks in the nation, this 1880s theme park rocks the holidays. Its seasonal "Old Time Christmas" features a five-story tree with special effects, a nightly parade of lights, and holiday entertainment including a live nativity. The whole park is bedecked in millions of holiday lights, according to the company, and there's even a seasonal steam train ride.